My First Interview in Cuba

Graham Sowa

Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, Jan 15 — Last week I was interviewed, in Cuba, for the first time by United States based media.  Granted, my interviewers were students from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, but they came equipped like professionals:  reporter pads, audio recorders, and a video camera.

I was being interviewed by Ethan.  He was wearing a white t-shirt and jeans that were very blue but strategically torn in a stylish fashion. His hair was cut short and his shoes were the no-lace type of canvas shoes that seem to have replaced the utilitarian Converse.

Ethan did very little writing on his reporters pad, apparently relying on the recorder to capture our exchange.  A couple of professors traveling with the students would periodically interject into our back-and-forth.

I tried to start the interview by asking what brought them to Cuba.  I was quickly returned the question by one of the professors and from there Ethan got right to his object:  internet in Cuba.

Contrary to what I have written before on Havana Times, I took a very defensive role right away.

I didn’t feel like my interviewer had done enough homework to be asking me these questions.  I felt like his conclusions were long decided and he was looking to justify them, to give examples to his assumptions.

So instead I tried to add as much context to my answers as I could. This did little to curtail his pursuit of specific examples of how lack of internet in Cuba hurt freedom of speech, my studies, or civil society (not an exhaustive list).

I don’t disagree with Cubans who have complaints about their lack of internet access because I feel like their stories and experiences are contextualized.  Their anecdotes are products of their experiences.

However I’m not as generous with foreigners and our agenda laden baggage as we pass judgment on Cuba’s internet situation.  Perhaps this is because I have not decided myself if the lack of internet access is, or is not, justified by the reasons given.

I don’t know if I believe that the Revolutionary project is really dependent on having such tight control over access to information.  As someone who has lived here for almost two years and still unable to decide on such things I was loath to give the answers away so easily to someone I felt had not the intellectual footwork that I had in struggling with these questions.

For me the problem largely comes down to my urge to avoid hypocrisy. How can I feel superior enough in my ideology about the universal goodness of free speech when airwaves and cables in the United States are controlled by the Federal Communications Commission and corporate interests?  The current debate over net-neutrality threatens even more involved government and corporate control.

My country has an unaddressed communications development gap between those who live in areas affluent enough to be provided with high speed internet access (and even then they must be able to pay for it) with the tens of millions who do not even yet have the option to get internet service via a mobile device.

Why was Ethan not stressing over these issues? What about American companies like Google and their complicity in web censorship in China?

Most of us seem to either not care or easily accept whatever explanation is given by the powers that be whenever these questions are asked.  We fail to realize that the limited internet access in

Cuba is not a moral anomaly nor does it occur in a vacuum.

My questions are not meant to result in a lengthy bout of staring at our navels, besieged by our subjectivity.  Rather I would like to see foreign journalists do a better job of contextualizing and researching

Cuba, as well as the topics they are reporting on from the island. For the past 50 years the news on (and in) Cuba has taken two clear positions: pro-Revolutionary and anti-Revolutionary.  The new generation of professional news writers does not need to follow this lead, no matter which side of the Straits of Florida they are writing from.

Graham

Graham Sowa: I've been living in Cuba for three years now. I would like to blame my obvious hair loss seen in this updated photo on the rigors of life here and medical school, but it is probably just genetic. I've made some of the strongest friendships during my time in Cuba from other writers on this website. The strength of those friendships has almost restored my faith that the online world can lead to offline and real life change. On that same note I've adjusted to using internet one or two hours a month. In the meantime I have rediscovered things like flipping through the pages of books, writing stuff down by hand, and having to admit that I don't know something instead of rapidly looking up the answer on Google while the teacher isn't looking.


6 thoughts on “My First Interview in Cuba

  • April 30, 2012 at 12:37 pm
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    ” I have come to the conclusion that it is important to restrict the flow of “information” from those who oppose socialism. ”

    Bravo Elizabeth. That is exactly what happen in Cuba. No need to sweeten the reality, or talking about China, and trying to look for excuses. That is all.
    In Cuba the ideology in the power (socialism) does not give rights to the people that not share the Socialist idea. (No party, no publications, no internet, no rights)
    That is all. Simple.

  • April 30, 2012 at 11:26 am
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    Hello Graham. I lived in Cuba almost my whole life. I live in USA now.
    It is really incomparable the control of the information in Cuba with what happen here.
    If “my true” does not have any a space in the media here in USA, as a last resource, I can print papers and handling them out in a corner of my city, create a blog, convoke a meeting.
    In Cuba, no options. The simple divulgation of ideas hand to hand, signed with names is prohibited. Therefore, the control of internet is political. Like the right to assemble and the right to divulge your ideas in a corner of your city.
    Maybe Cuba is not an anomaly, but it is not fair that you can have an internet account and my Cuban cousin in Cuba no (even if I am willing to pay for it). Your dollars have a value that mine does not have. And I am Cuban and you are not.

  • February 1, 2012 at 12:33 pm
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    I hope you’ll take a look at the Web site those students published. It’s not finished yet but for young journalists, the oldest being 21 or 22, they treated this project very seriously and, I think, well.

    It’s at: http://journalismwithoutwalls.com

    Thanks,
    Ron Howell (I was one of the two professors with the group)

  • January 16, 2012 at 11:25 am
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    I completely agree with Ms. Faraone’s comments .

    While the student “journalists” can be excused for their ignorance of conditions and circumstances limiting net access in Cuba, the professors cannot.

    Given the free access to the net and the plethora of unbiased information vis a vis the effects of the 50 year U.S war on the economy of Cuba, their questions should have come from a more informed point of view.

    Graham and others are right on target in being right up front about the lack of freedom of speech in the U.S due to government and corporate control of the media and the net.

    The students seem to have absorbed exactly what the State department and the wealthy of the United States would want them to believe.

    It’s the pot calling the kettle black.

    Graham, is your interview with the SUNY interviewers available anywhere on the net yet?
    I should think it would be quite interesting given the difference in views between you and them and I’d like to read it.

  • January 15, 2012 at 8:51 am
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    I wouldn’t trust anyone living in the US who pushes for freedom of speech in Cuba. They ignore the lack of freedom of speech and freedom to protest in the US, and believe that it is their duty to out the lack of freedoms in Cuba. I have come to the conclusion that it is important to restrict the flow of “information” from those who oppose socialism. I also believe that tourism should be restricted to those who are socialists and that the predators who come into Cuba to use prostitutes should be imprisoned in Cuba. We are living in such abusive times and I believe Cuba has the potential to rise as a nation that will lead people towards goodness. Unfortunately, I don’t believe they are presently going in this direction because they are, in fact, being intellectually and economically bullied by those with selfish agendas.

  • January 15, 2012 at 4:35 am
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    Some outstanding points are raised in your interview comments. Excellent review of China and of course
    the predominance of the major media monopoly in the USA. I do feel that those living in the United States
    have a better opportunity than Cuban’s to express differing opinions and make them known via the internet.
    Although computers are in fact expensive and out of the reach of those in the poverty level, there are
    public venues where anyone can use them and therefore most if not all can agree or differ.
    I enjoy reading your messages and will continue to do so.

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